That Perfect PB&J

Writing your novel is unlike anything that you have done up to this point. You’ve got a great idea. You’ve outlined and planned it. Hopefully by this time you have even written a chapter or two. You’re feeling pretty good about yourself, until you realized exactly what you’ve done.

There is a certain hype. A motivation that is pumping through your veins as you begin to daydream your novel. You can see it glistening on the shelves. Immediately rising to a bestseller. You can hear the agents fighting over you, and the big publishers and their lucrative deals. But an interesting thought begins to cross your mind as well.

I have to write this thing.

And that is kind of a big deal because it’s the whole reason you got into this in the first place. I want to help. I want to give advice, and some is strictly based off my experience because that is all I know. I have spoken with other writers, though, and I can think we can agree that one of the hardest parts to writing a novel is actually writing the stinking thing.

Outlining and planning is like the honeymoon in a marriage. Then real life begins to hit, and all the sudden there are children and work. Bills and other various adulting activities that can sometimes drag you down. At its core, we write because we love writing.

But at that same core we sort of despise writing.

At some point I think it would be so cool to be able to just think a novel into completion. You know what I mean. Wouldn’t it be awesome to just think words onto the page? The editing and character development just does its own thing. Don’t get me wrong, I love writing. I love seeing my story develop into something amazing. But if you are feeling doubtful or stressed about putting so many thousands of coherent words onto a page, it’s completely normal.

I would say writing the novel is probably step three. But let’s not kid ourselves, its actually like sub step A of step three, and that is what we are going to focus on here. Writing is like that perfect PB&J. You must have the right ratio down, so it tastes good, but is not overpowered by one ingredient. To start, its not going to be important how you make it, what is important is getting all the ingredients down from the cabinet and making sure you have everything.

That’s it.

If you start spreading peanut butter on the bread before you’re confident you have jelly, I fear you will not have a very good PB&J. To translate that into writing, your first step is to get words on paper. You don’t need a thesaurus. You don’t need an editor or illustrator. You don’t need a beta reader or critique partner. That first part is all you, and it can be hard.

You know better than anyone that you have a great story. But typing thousands of words down is not something that just happens. There is a certain amount of motivation mixed with creativity and enlightenment that all come together. Its like a perfect storm.

There is no specific amount of time associated with writing your story. Not one. You will see tons of people posting about the million words they wrote yesterday.

THAT IS SUPER DUPER AWESOME. BUT YOU HAVE TO DO YOU.

You are not going to write as much or as little as the next person because everyone’s circumstances are unique to them. There are times that I have written five thousand words in one day. There are times I have only written five. There are times I have written none. There are days and weeks that I have gone without writing because of obligations and it makes me feel absolutely terrible.

We put ourselves on these deadlines and feel compelled to meet them. Listen, nobody is going to steal a story from your mind, so what is the rush? Let it come to you in your own time. The first thing you have to do is get the story down on paper. Get that amazing thought out of your head and down on paper. If that takes a week or seven years, it doesn’t matter.

What does matter is that you’re writing.

But Why the What and How the Who?

So, you’ve come up with your great idea for your novel. But it isn’t a novel yet. You’ve plucked that idea ever so gently from the tree in the back of your brain, but you are now unsure how to peel it. Sure, you have been having tantalizing daydreams about the ending, and maybe a sprinkle throughout, but you’re not there yet.

You are in step two, or as close to step two as one could wish to be. You are now in a sort of planning stage. As I have said before, I don’t really do the step thing, but for some of you it will help. Your idea is not good enough to have all by itself. We get it. The Rainbow Unicorn will save the world by flying to the top of Candy Mountain to defeat Lord Sour Head.

But why the what, when, where, and how? (pause for applause from oxford comma enthusiasts)

You see, I have just come up with a bunch of questions that you can’t really answer right now.  THAT’S NOT A BAD THING! It’s your story and I expect you to write it in whatever way you feel the best about. But if you plan to write a story, and we’re talking full novel style, we need to know some specifics. We’re far away from that right now. Calm down. We’re only on step two.

Now, there are a ton of ways to go about this. My process is a little different. It is the same way as the idea that I talked about in my last blog. It sort of just comes to me.

What I do, is I give myself a few chapters to let the story develop. With my current WIP, I literally wrote five separate chapters with characters that I wasn’t really sure were even related. Sure, they are in my novel. Or at least I want them to be. But where is the story going?

You are going to answer a ton of questions in those first few chapters that will get you well on your way to the rest. For example. Within the very first line of a chapter there was an issue with the lords of a certain province charging higher tax rates at their ports. The royal advisers, however, are the ones that set the tax rates, and could foresee substantial economic repercussions of this province going rogue.

ENTER UNNAMED PROVINCE.

And just like that, you must answer your first question. What will I name this place? Where is it? What kind of towns are there? What are the people like? This helps me be more creative, and let the story come to me. I have never been the best at sitting down for hours and meticulously plotting every breath my characters take. If this is you, then good! I honestly wish I could.

I am one step short of a perfectionist, and while I love things organized and neat. Everything goes in its place. Karen, put that stapler back at the forty-five degree angle I had it in! I get so bored, boring down over every little detail. I also find it helps the creative juices to flow a little more freely. Instead of putting everything into little boxes, I grab a handful of seeds and throw them out into the yard. I just sit back and see how they grow.

This goes to show two things. One, you can write however you want. And two, you can outline however you want. I know people who say outlining is better, and those that say winging it is better. The truth is that I’m a pantser, and the reason I am that way?

BECAUSE IT WORKS FOR ME!

Long story short, I let the details come to me. As I tear off into writing, parts of my story force themselves to be named and described. Once you get more places and characters then you need a map, or some sort of way to organize them. Before you know it, you are creating a world, when just a while ago, you were scratching your head wondering how to write a novel.

Bottom line (and I’m not just saying that because it’s the last line) is that if you don’t just sit down and write, it will never be written. Now go write!

That Thing You Do Before Your Write

I have been attempting to become more active in the writing community. This has led me to engage in more conversations on Twitter and around the internet involving writing. I want to learn as much as I can, while at the same time spreading around the knowledge to others as much as possible.

Thus, came about the writing process. This, in my opinion, is one of the most important processes that a writer can get down. But there is something significant that I see so extensively throughout blogs that I feel compelled to point it out.

THERE IS NOT ONE SINGLE PROCESS TO WRITING A NOVEL.

I would argue that there are as many ways to write a novel as you can think of. More importantly, there is YOUR way.

I want to focus on the way that I write a novel. Not only will this give you a delicious look into my haphazard mind, but it may spark some new idea of your own.

When I write, the first step for me is coming up with an idea. I look at this less like a step, and more of a happenstance. It is simply a thought. A feeling. Many writers out there will understand what I mean. It is kind of like those cartoons where the light bulb goes off above the character’s head. I never feel pressure to come up with an idea. Why?

Because to me writing is fun.

I do it because I want to create worlds. I want to tell a story. I don’t know if I could put so much time into something that I didn’t find enjoyable. This is why you will never find me sitting around forcing myself to think of a plot or a story arc.

“But, Stephan, shouldn’t you follow the (enter last amount you heard) steps to writing a novel?”

The answer to that, my dearest reader, is no.

The reason the answer is no, is a skosh more complicated. The first step in my writing process is not a step at all because if I don’t have an idea slowly budding in the back of my mind, then there is no story to begin with. I guess you could say that the first step of my writing process is deciding which ridiculously amazing idea floating around in my mind is bursting to come out first.

For example. I wrote an anecdotal parenting guide a few years ago. It was back when I didn’t have a single thought of being an author. I used to journal, in a way. I would write down little stories about my children, so I could look back on them and remember what it was like. Then one day it hit me. Just hit me. It burst through my living room wall like the Kool-Aid guy and hit me.

I would make it into a book. And I must say, it was the best idea ever. I had so much fun, but it was also hard. I had to do tons of research about how to write a book. I had to make sure my editing was on point. It took me out of my comfort zone. And most importantly, it was one of the best experiences I have ever had.

Now that is an example of where I already had a few thoughts down on paper. One thing led to another, and I kind of fell into a book. What happens when you don’t have notes and other things to go off?

Enter the other side of my mind: The pantser.

Many of you have undoubtedly heard me talk of a YA fantasy that I am currently querying. But let’s take a step back and understand the process. Link of Fates was a novel long in the making. When I was a junior in high school, I sat down one day and typed up the first three chapters. Did I plan it? Did I plot story arcs? Did I care what other people thought?

NOPE.

I just wrote for the joy of writing. Its like Bob Ross and his happy little trees. I have happy little nouns and verbs. Pronouns and adjectives. Anyways, they all seemed to find their way onto the same page and next thing you know I have three chapters.

So, life happens, and I put it away and forgot about it. Or did I?

Remember that idea, floating in the back of your head that you must pick out and write about? That is the one, my friend. And for seven long years it kept coming back and back and back and back and I finally listened to it. Earlier this year, I finally wrote the last twenty-one chapters. Talk about a long process.

Or is it?

The writing process and especially the first step is one of the most important. It is crucial to your story. The idea. The spark. The butterfly feeling in your stomach when you get up and can’t wait to put black down on the white paper.

There is not one way to write a novel, because we are all different. We think differently. We are different. In that light, it would make sense that we all write differently. Other than that, I will tell you that you must write no matter what other people say. There will always be a Debbie downer. There will always be someone who thinks your idea is stupid or overused.

You do you. And don’t you dare let someone tell you that you can’t do something.

The Shark and the Podcast

It is astounding to think that I have finished the first book in a novel. I seem to be cautiously wading out into the shallows. But these are not the calm and quiet shallows of a beach. Crystal clear water, and seagull’s squarking and gliding through the air. A soft breeze moving through your hair. These shallows have sharks, and somehow you are supposed to swim across them. But there is a catch.

You have to tie a blood soaked query letter to your back leg.

That is my first impression of the writing industry, and although it may be a smidge of an embellishment, it is not completely untrue. I remember the days of old. The dreaming of getting a book published. Back then it was easy, back then it was safe.

Now, you can’t be afraid. You can’t sit back and hope that you wrote a good enough book to be noticed by agents and publishers. You have to go out there are make it happen. You have to have a following.

Enter Twitter

So, I am not old, but I am not young. I never really got into Twitter. I mean, I have always had one. I think everyone has. But I never really used it. What makes it even better is that I sat there on my author Facebook page, hoping and wishing that I would start a large following.

I began to get on Twitter more. I began to actually interact with people. Not just retweet, but actually find someone who is having a conversation and join in. A funny thing happened. I started getting followers. Now, I don’t have a ton, but you have to start somewhere. I am somewhere around 300 more than I had a few weeks ago. 

I digress. But you should follow me. But seriously, I digress.

*whispers “follow me”

I was at drill a few weeks ago. I know, I know. Then Army just keeps taking and taking. In all truth, I did sign up for it. Like literally signed a contract. So, I suppose I had it coming. Anyways, I was there and talking to one of my buddies, and he made a good point. He says that I should start a podcast. Apparently I am always carrying on a dialogue about something interesting, which actually got me to thinking about it.

A podcast. Me, talking to myself. Just the thought brings a smile to my face, and gets my chest fluttering in ways that I can’t describe without a thesaurus. No promises, but I am looking into it. I’m really excited about it. Hopefully it gives me an outlet, and saves my wife from my rants and raves.

Long story short, it is good to be back to writing. I am currently querying for the first book in my series The Pearls of Solus. It is a YA epic fantasy, and I haven’t been quite this excited about something since the Titans made it to the Super Bowl in 1999.

In other news, I am writing the second book in said series, but I am getting distracted by a budding idea. I have already written a chapter, but safe to say it is fantasy as well. It has a sort of medieval setting and is centered on a power struggle between siblings. I can neither confirm nor deny that this has anything to do with the fact that I am one of six siblings.

It's Good To Be Back

Well, it has been a while, I have to say. The Army tends to make me do things that have the potential to keep me away from a computer for extended periods of time. Not that it is a bad thing by any means; nevertheless it’s good to be back.

I can’t say that it was a complete loss, being gone. In the two weeks I spent in Texas I was able to get back several of the beta reads that I sent out, so that was awesome. It seems as though the editing process is going to go on forever, but I know that once I get that feeling, it will be done. At this point I am not sure if that feeling is going to be one where I am completely satisfied with my work, or a feeling of “I can’t read this again.”

You see, the whole point in writing a book, for me, is to get it into the hands of my readers. At some point I am going to have to stop moving commas and periods and just get on with it. If grammar bothers someone so much that they can’t read a story for what it is, then should they really be reading it?

I started the Pearls of Solus series back in 2010. Don’t worry, I haven’t been writing on it that long. The majority of the writing has happened in the past year, but the beginning of it all was back in 2010. I remember not even planning to write it. I just had a thought one day and began to write it down. That thought became a chapter, and then two, and then three; three absolutely horribly written chapters. When I begin to feel as though my writing is not up to par, I always pull up those early drafts and begin to read just to see just how far I have come.

Work, family, school, you name it and it was going on back then. It is still happening. I now have three wild children and work has obviously not changed, but something has. Maybe it was my motivation, or maybe I will never know. The bottom line is that one day in early 2017 I pulled up that old story I had started and began writing it again. It is now a complete story and is hovering around 72,000 words. When I think of the fact that the longest thing I have written was my parenting book, A Father’s Guide, coming in at around 22,000, then the magnitude of what I have done begins to come into reality.

I have spent so much time wanting to make it perfect and hoping that every single person in the world loves it. The truth of the matter is that it will never happen. There will always be that one person who doesn’t like fantasy or that grammar Nazi who just can’t go on because the period was in the wrong place. I have seen so much with sending out beta reads. I have had someone not make it past the first couple of paragraphs. I have also had someone read the entirety of the book in a week and absolutely love it, and are impatiently waiting for the next one.

I will never be able to please everyone, and I feel like that was something I had to figure out by myself. It was so stressful before I actually had people read my novel. But now I am able to see just how different everyone is, and I think that is so awesome. It won’t be long now, and whether you hate it or love it, it is going to happen and I couldn’t be more excited about it.